A Night At The Ballpark

SLYAA Triple Play Project will Transform Spirit Lake Little League Fields
Stepping up to the plate, the butterflies are going as the batter plants his feet. The pitcher stares stoically back, daring the hitter to take a swing. Every year, countless boys and girls gain valuable life lessons during a game of baseball and softball.

For several months every summer, Little League games bring together Dickinson County families, as teams from Lake Park, Okoboji, and Spirit Lake compete against each other, making memories and creating friendships. Games are played in Arnolds Park, Lake Park, Milford and Spirit Lake for boys and girls aged 5 years through 13.

For over 50 years, Spirit Lake Youth Athletic Association (SLYAA) has hosted games at the ball diamonds on the northeast side of the Spirit Lake Community School complex. The West and East fields were built by the City of Spirit Lake prior to 1973, and the Majors field in the center was developed in 1987. Beginning this July, SLYAA’s Triple Play Project will begin renovation of the Little League fields and will transform the entire space into a beautiful place for summer’s favorite game to be played.

“Even when I'm not coaching or watching my own kids play, I'm still at the ballpark and still enjoy watching all the moments that the game provides. As I watch these young athletes compete, I see the big hits, great defensive plays, stolen bases, and strikeouts, I hear the cheers, see the smiles and the pride on coaches and parents' faces. I also see the defeat, the heartbreak, the hard lessons learned, and the resolve to 'get 'em next time.' I'm excited to have the opportunity for us to share more and more of those moments every season with more athletes and their biggest fans, to bring teams together and create memories at the ballpark, and to give our community another great reason to be proud to work and play here in the Iowa Great Lakes,” said SLYAA Board President Brook Beisell.

Talk of Field Renovations for Some Time
For over the past decade, SLYAA has considered renovating the ball diamonds. Great ideas have been explored but the timing was never quite right. In 2019, the City of Spirit Lake and the Spirit Lake Schools did a land swap turning the Little League fields over to the school.

“The Spirit Lake School District had a vision to connect the Little League fields to the rest of the great facilities on the school campus—to create a community park concept,” said SYLAA Board Member Brett Johnson. “Discussions ensued and a two-phase plan was set into motion that began in 2020.”

Phase one took shape with new tennis courts and pickleball courts built just south of the high school softball diamond. A basketball court was built in fall 2021, while a walking path was created this past spring.

The next phase will begin this July, transforming the ball diamonds and surrounding area for future ball players. The walking path to the north will be created to connect to the current trail. Completion date is scheduled for the 2023 Little League season.

“We have over 500 young athletes participating on our fields annually, plus hundreds more participating through SLYAA sponsored tournaments, as well as thousands of spectators visiting our complex and our community,” Beisell shared. “This project will help us to provide a safer and more enjoyable baseball/softball experience for our young athletes and their families by addressing many of the structural issues that you'd expect with a 40+ year-old facility, as well as some aesthetic improvements.”

Beisell explained that the current fields lack adequate drainage, which many years often leads to several cancelled games and practices during a season.

“Even moderate amounts of rain are exacerbated by the uneven playing surfaces created by grading issues as a result of decades of maintenance and weather,” he said.

The ball diamonds also lack irrigation, which results in hardened playing surfaces and dusty conditions for the athletes. SLYAA Triple Play Project addresses both major issues by completely regrading the fields, adding new infield substrate and reseeded outfields, and installing drainage and irrigation, so water is placed where needed and eliminated from unwanted spaces, as the infield surface requires moisture to be maintained properly. The project also addresses the fencing and safety tiling, which have long needed to be replaced.

Another phase of the project will be replacing the dugouts, which have become extremely outdated and often undersized for a team. Other planned improvements will tie into the community park project, which is to complete the walking path, add a patio seating area around the concession stand and new restrooms. Other unique amenities will be added to display Spirit Lake High School welding art along the path.

“While those improvements are primarily designed with our players in mind, we also have plans to upgrade our concessions area to provide more space and seating for patrons as well as discussions to provide webcams on all fields so that all fans can watch their athletes compete regardless of where they are,” Beisell shared.

Johnson added that the renovated fields will enhance the overall quality and safety of the playing surface for all athletes.

“This has been a complete community effort with the school, city and local businesses all coming together to make this happen. The improvements were long overdue,” he said. “The community park will be a unique and welcoming site for all ages to enjoy. When all the amenities are complete, this will be a great space for outdoor recreation for community members and visitors. The community park is in the heart of our city and will be something we can all be proud to show off.  We can’t wait to play on the new fields with the atmosphere the community park will create.”

Site demo is planned for early July, with new fencing and dugout construction to follow. The next step is to grow grass mid-to late August. The other amenities will go up this summer into the fall, with the goal of playing on the new fields by May 2023.

Under the lights, the crack of the bat sends a ball flying across the field. The runner takes off for first base, while the defense scrambles to get the ball and attempt the out. With Triple Play Project, SLYAA is helping young athletes from across the area further their dreams and develop the love of the game.

The Spirit Lake Youth Athletic Association is a 501(c)3 organization that operates all Little League activities (baseball, softball, t-ball) for the Spirit Lake community and coordinates the greater area league, which includes Okoboji Youth Baseball and Softball Association and the NWIYAA organization out of Lake Park. Their joint mission is to provide quality structured baseball and softball activities to Lakes Area youth that teach age-appropriate fundamentals, good sportsmanship, character, discipline, competitiveness, and teamwork by providing opportunities to learn and compete in a positive, recreational experience that strengthens and unites our youth, family, and community.

SLYAA began fundraising this spring and will be ongoing through the project. Currently, SYLAA is 60% of the way to their total goal of $370,000. Spirit Lake Youth Athletics is a 501c3 organization qualifying for tax deductible donations. If you would like to learn more the project or to donate to the project, please reach out to Project Co-chairs Brett Johnson at bjohnson@mycentral.bank or Luke Donnenwerth at ldonnenwerth@bankmidwest.com.

2021-2022 SLYAA board members are:
Brook Beisell, President, Brett Johnson, Project Co-chair, Luke Donnenworth, Project Co-chair, Eric Munson, Jen Munson, Jana Beisell, Beau Naatjes, Brent Southworth, Jodi Reinke, Larry Wajda